I wound through back-alleys and streets toward the Pyramid View Inn and checked in around 6:30 AM. Thank God none of the knife-wielding ruffians followed me. Time to work on my exfil plan to Israel after some much needed rest.
The next flight to Tel Aviv, within my budget, was four days out. I prioritized air, but also conducted a map study for ground exfil as an alternative. Satisfied with my plan, I ate crackers and tea on the rooftop, taking in the majestic view of the pyramids in front of me. Although I told myself I’d play it safe after the stabbing, I couldn’t just go to Egypt and not see the pyramids. So I packed a daybag and headed out the front door.
I walked less than one block when an old man named Mohammed rolled up on his camel.
“Where you going? You want to see pyramids?”
“Let me take you, huh?”
“How much baksheesh?”
“Nothing. You pay me as you please.”
I knew this was going to turn into a rip-off. But with no more than thirty dollars on me, there wasn’t much I could lose. So I mounted the camel with Mohammad and awkwardly hung on to his sweaty chest.
The saddle unbearably tore into my taint. I tried shifting my weight several times to no avail. As we rode through town, many people laughed and smiled at the big white foreigner, out of place and having the time of his life. I felt like a celebrity. Mohammad greeted everyone we passed with the polite Salaam,or Salaam aleikum. Some men threw the Islamic greeting toward me, and were delightfully surprised when I replied with Wa aleikum a salaam wa rahmatullah.
As we neared the stretch of gold-yellow sand ahead of the pyramids, Mohammad stopped for photos. I tried to get the stereotypical “tourist touching the top of the pyramid” picture, but couldn’t communicate it to Mohammad, and so I posed the best I could… fail!
I motioned for us to get closer to the pyramids, but he said this was as far as we could go because of the revolution. He pointed to an observation post with two guards, and a horse patrol in the distance. No tourists polluted this amazing sight in the distance, and I figured I was one of the few westerners who would ever see the pyramids this way. Upon return, Mohammad addressed the elephant in the room.
“Okay Ryan. You enjoyed yourself and I enjoyed myself, yes? How about we settle the price at two hundred and fifty dollars?”
I laughed inside.
“Here you go, Mohammad. It’s all I have.” I handed him twenty dollars from my throw wallet. He tried to guilt me for more, to no avail. He rode off angrily, and I went back to my room to watched re-runs of MTV’s Pimp My Ride dubbed over in Arabic.
The next day, bored out of my mind with no real plan, I walked down the street and noticed an empty restaurant with the side door open. I tip-toed inside and stole a steak knife, wrapped it in a plastic bag and kept it in my pocket for self-defense. I’ll be damned if I go out like the last bitch.
My hotel offered tours of Cairo with a private driver for thirty dollars, so I purchased one the day before my flight to Israel. The driver, who referred to himself as John, first took me to the Citadel of Salah al Dinh. He dropped me off and instructed me to meet him at the same location in two hours. As I approached the gate, I noticed metal detectors and guards with AK-47’s, so I stashed my bagged knife in some bushes before entering the citadel.
While walking around the Citadel, I met a medical student named Ahmed. We had an interesting conversation. Tired, sweaty, and dehydrated, Ahmed refused my water bottle as he faithfully observed Ramadan, but he couldn’t resist asking me about women.
“Is it true that in America, you can have sex with any woman you want?”
“Yeah. I mean, if it’s okay with her.”
“I can’t believe American men disrespect their women so much. They wear such small swimsuits. It’s so disrespectful to their bodies.”
“Women in good shape usually like to show it in America. It shows you take care of yourself. It’s more about confidence than sex.”
“But sometimes it’s about sex?”
“Ryan,” he began to ask, shyly, “have you ever had sex?”
“Umh, yes. Yes I have.”
“How many times?”
“I don’t know.”
“Have you had sex with more than one woman?”
He smiled mischievously like a teenage boy seeing a Playboy for the first time, and looked around to make sure no one was listening in.
“What does the vagina feel like?” I held back a laugh of embarrassment.
“Well, it’s pretty soft. If she shaves. If she doesn’t shave it’s less soft but tickles. Most women in America shave or wax down there. Inside it’s wet.”
He smiled as if it were the spiciest thing he’s ever heard. “So your penis can move inside her with no problems?”
“Well you can’t just jam it in, no. You have to spit on it first. Or use lube.”
“Ryan, do you wear condoms during sex?”
“Uhh, usually no,” I answered, a little embarrassed but ever honest.
“What about your sperm?”
“You just pull out if she’s not on the pill, or take plan B.”
Ever curious, Ahmed asked me all sorts of sexual questions as we walked around the mosque and museum. I talked to him about sex in America, plan B, abortion, different sexual positions, STD’s, and all kinds of other things I’d expect a medical student to already know. We parted our perverted ways and I met back up with John.
Next, John took me to the Hanging Church in the Coptic Christian area of Cairo. Supposedly, it is where Joseph and Mary fled when King Herod ordered the Massacre of Innocents in Bethlehem. It was the cleanest part of the city I’d seen so far, and I met a fun group of teenage kids who were excited to practice their English with me.
After exploring the Christian quarter, John took me to eat at an old yacht on the Nile River which had been converted to a restaurant. I was the only customer, and the staff all watched me eat a plate of rice, veggies, and meat, hunger boiling in their stomachs from the Ramadan fast. I felt rude, but John insisted not toworry about it. He asked me if I’d like to see a belly dancer, and I was like, hell yeah! I was a little disappointed when he brought out an old TV on a cart and played a video of a fat woman dancing, jewelry and purple sashes jingling over her body.
About half way through the meal, my guts knotted up and warned me to find a bathroom asap. I walked to the upper deck to find a disgusting head, latrine for you army types. The bowl of the old toilet was full of shit water and everything was covered in thick dust. It stank, but it didn’t seem to bother the spiders that were crawling around the commode. I was seconds from having explosive diarrhea, and I’d have to make do. After conducting some bitter sweet business, I searched for toilet paper. Nada. The next option was to dig out the bidet which was submerged in shit water. Fuck that. It was time to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Using my primary weapon, the stolen steak knife, I cut strips of fabric from the dusty curtains located across the passageway. Feeling like Ace Ventura, and without going into further detail, I discretely signaled to John that it was time to disembark.
John drove me to the Cairo airport the next day, my Egyptian misadventure over and my personal exodus to Israel just beginning. Near the terminal, I spotted the familiar McDonald’s golden arches. Despite not eating fast food in years, I ordered two large fries and a coke, and enjoyed every bite.
Egypt doesn’t have to be a misadventure for travelers. I showed up at the wrong time because of my ego. But even some misadventures make for great memories, albeit tarnished by the witness of a brutal murder.